The report would have you believe that the solution for slashing this $1 billion price tag is to promote the off-label use of a similar drug called Avastin, approved by the FDA to treat cancer. The off-label use of Avastin costs 40 times less than Lucentis per injection but the dirty truth is that many of these injections of Avastin are produced in compounding pharmacies that are not regularly inspected by the FDA. Because of lower standards for purity and a lack of inspection for compounding pharmacies, off-label use of Avastin for the treatment of AMD has been linked to more extensive and premature blindness. Reports of these complications have been in the news since 2011, when the New York Times first called attention to this unsafe practice. Unfortunately, the scope of recent legislation passed to improve oversight of compounding pharmacies does not extend to those producing injections of Avastin for AMD. The most recent report of contaminated lots of Avastin intended for AMD treatment was just last year. The injections originated in a Georgia compounding pharmacy.
This is one of those cases where if the solution sounds simple you need to look deeper because it probably is too good to be true. Those of us who want more independence and improved quality of life for people as they grow older need to look beyond the cost of a drug. We don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye on what is best for patients.
Cynthia Bens is Vice President for Pubic Policy at the Alliance for Aging Research, a PIPC Steering Committee Member. This blog post originally appeared on The Alliance For Aging Research website